Friday, November 17, 2017

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

10:06 AM 2 Comments
I'm a sucker for a Christmas tree, or really for all things Christmas (thanks, Mom), so I was perhaps disproportionately excited when I heard that the live evergreen tree destined for the U.S. Capitol was planning a whistle stop in Helena.  The seventy foot tree started in the Kootenai National Forest in western Montana and is making the 3000+ mile journey to Washington, D.C. strapped on the back of a ginormous semi truck.

Since 1970, a different national forest has been selected each year to provide the U.S. Capitol Tree, or "People's Tree."  The tree hasn't come from Montana since 2008. In honor of the event, the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce along with several local businesses and organizations planned a two hour celebration in front of the Montana State Capital. There were cookies, hot cocoa, and carolers from the high school, and both the governor and the mayor spoke. Visitors were invited to sign their names on the tarp covering the tree, and people across the country will continue to add their names as the truck pushes on.


So it was a pretty cool event. You know what made it even cooler? My kids' elementary school, which is located about four blocks from the capital, planned to have the ENTIRE SCHOOL walk over to see the tree in a giant single file line. Even better, every kid came with a can of food in hand to donate to Helena Food Share. Even better, Helena Food Share didn't know they were planning this, so they were blown away by the 300+ canned goods brought by 300+ smiling kiddos in brightly colored winter wear. It.was.awesome.

That was a pretty great kickoff to the holiday season. You can read more about the U.S. Capital Tree here and even tracks its progress as it continues to push eastward.

Happy early holidays, all!

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Tale of Two Summits

1:01 PM 0 Comments
(I started this post a few weeks ago, and it feels strange to pick it up now; the mountains and hikes described herein are now covered in snow. But that's a story for another post. For today, let me tell you about the mountains of Helena, Montana.)

Helena, Montana lies just east of the Continental Divide, tucked in a valley with mountains on all sides. Just as in Chicago you can always figure out where you are by knowing the number system for the streets (thanks, Dad), here you can always get your bearings by the mountains. The city of Helena is nestled pretty closely to mountains in the west and the south; Mt. Helena is easily identifiable in the west, Mt. Ascension to the south. There's a great big valley before you get to the mountains in the north, but those are easy to find because of the Sleeping Giant, a range of mountains that look like a huge giant snoozing. The mountains to the east are similarly a ways off.

This is a photo of our neighborhood taken from the top of Mt. Helena:

Mt. Ascension is off to the right in this photo, and those are the Elkhorn Mountains in the distance.

It looks nothing like east central Illinois.

One of the privileges of my temporary life of leisure (AKA unemployment) is that I have time to hike in these hills. I also have extensive amounts of time to drink coffee. So that's pretty much what I do - hike and drink coffee. My partner in crime on these ventures is most often my dear, dear friend Malena (along with Charlie the Amazing Goldendoodle), though sometimes I go on my own. Sometimes I hike fast, sometimes I hike slow, sometimes I bring my camera, sometimes I don't. It's pretty great that within a few minutes of leaving the house I can be at a trailhead and on my way to the top of a mountain.

Malena and I hiked to the top of Mt. Helena a few weeks back. It's a great spot to see all of Helena spread out below:
From the west side looking east. You can see the cathedral in the middle.
Looking west.

Charlie the Amazing Goldendoodle
The Sleeping Giant (Mt. Helena view)

A few days after that I hiked to the top of Mt. Ascension by myself. These photos were taken on my phone so they aren't as sharp, but you get the idea:

Mt. Ascension from the trailhead
Helena from above
Snow in the distance
Mountaintop Hope
The Sleeping Giant (Mt. Ascension view)
 A tale of two summits. Hope you enjoyed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gates of the Mountains Part II

10:48 AM 0 Comments
As mentioned in an earlier post, I had the opportunity to attend a field trip with Finn's class to the Gates of the Mountains. Named by Meriwether Lewis, who, along with his expedition, passed through this area in 1805, the Gates are so named for the ginormous limestone cliffs that rise alongside the Missouri River:

"'In many places,' wrote Meriwether Lewis, 'the rocks seem ready to tumble on us.' At each bend in the waterway, great stone walls seemed to block passage, only to open like gentle giant gates as the expedition drew near. In his journal, Meriwether wrote: 'I shall call this place: GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS.'"  - from the website

A few takeaways from my day spent on the river:
  • Getting to go on field trips is such a gift. As a working parent, I seldom was able to, and when I did I had to use one of my two personal days. I feel super lucky for the gift of time I have this year.
  • Getting to go on field trips ON A BOAT is super cool. Amiright? 
  • Montana kids are tough. It snowed the whole time. Snowed. Now, we were in a covered boat, but it wasn't heated, and at the end of the trip when the teachers allowed the kids to go out back, they loved it.
  • Finn seems to be thriving. He's made good friends. I'm so happy I got to spy on him for a day and get to know some of the kids in his class. 
  • Unrelated: Sean really wanted to name a kid Meriwether.
The photographic highlight of the trip was this bald eagle. The boat skipper/tour guide pointed out the nest shortly before spotting the actual bird. With my long lens, I was able to see it up close:

I leave you with a few more photos. Come visit us; we will take you on this trip! Maybe plan on coming in the summer, though :)

All aboard!

Early morning light on the Missouri

Indigenous pictographs

Autumn colors at Mann Gulch

Braving the elements

My favorite 4th grader